Aimé Césaire (26 June 1913 – 17 April 2008) was a Francophone and French poet, author and politician from Martinique.
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939)
- Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1939), as translated and edited by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith (2001)
- My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.
- p. 13
- Beware of assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of miseries is not a proscenium, a man screaming is not a dancing bear.
- p. 13
Discourse on Colonialism (1955)
- Discours sur le colonialisme (1955), as translated by Joan Pinkham (1972)
- What, fundamentally, is colonization? To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. To admit once for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors here are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.
- The colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal.
- First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and interrogated, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.
- pp. 35-36
And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the racks invent, refine, discuss.
People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind — it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it.
- p. 36
Letter to Maurice Thorez resigning from the French Communist Party, October 24, 1956
- as translated by Chike Jeffers
Khrushchev’s revelations concerning Stalin are enough to have plunged all those who have participated in communist activity, to whatever degree, into an abyss of shock, pain, and shame (or, at least, I hope so).
The dead, the tortured, the executed—no, neither posthumous rehabilitations, nor national funerals, nor official speeches can overcome them. These are not the kind of ghosts that one can ward off with a mechanical phrase.
From now on, they will show up as watermarks in the very substance of the system.
- The details supplied by Khrushchev on Stalin’s methods ... lead us to believe in the existence in these countries of a veritable state capitalism, exploiting the working class in a manner not very different from the way the working class is used in capitalist countries.
- With the exception of Yugoslavia, in numerous European countries—in the name of socialism—usurping bureaucracies that are cut off from the people (bureaucracies from which it is now proven that nothing can be expected) have achieved the pitiable wonder of transforming into a nightmare what humanity has for so long cherished as a dream: socialism.
- I believe I have said enough to make it clear that it is neither Marxism nor communism that I am renouncing, and that it is the usage some have made of Marxism and communism that I condemn. That what I want is that Marxism and communism be placed in the service of black peoples, and not black peoples in the service of Marxism and communism.
Une Tempête (1969)
- as translated by Richard Miller (1985, 1992)
- Weakness always has a thousand means and cowardice is all that keeps us from listing them.
- Caliban in Une Tempête (1969)
- Every time you summon me it reminds me of a basic fact, the fact that you've stolen everything from me, even my identity!
- Caliban in Une Tempête (1969)
Quotes about Aimé Césaire
- It is under these circumstances that, apropos of buying a ribbon for my daughter, I happened to leaf through a periodical on display in the haberdashery where the ribbon was sold. It was, under an extremely unpretentious cover, the first issue of a review called Tropiques which had just come out in Fort-de-France. Needless to say, knowing the extent to which ideas had been debased in the last year and not unfamiliar with the lack of scruples characteristic of police reactions in Martinique, I approached this periodical with extreme diffidence. ... I could not believe my eyes: for what was said there was what had to be said and was said in a manner not only as elegantly but elevatedly as anyone could say it! All the grimacing shadows were apart, scattered; all the lies, all the mockery shredded: thus the voice of man was in no way broken, suppressed—it sprang upright again like the very spike of light. Aimé Césaire, such was the name of the one who spoke.
- At most, critics are permitted to say something about the conflicting aspects of the formation of the personality in question and to bring out the striking circumstances of that formation. Unquestionably in Césaire's case it would for once lead us, at full gallop, away from the path of indifference.
- Not surprisingly, a valorization of the body has been present in nearly all the literature of "second wave" 20th-century feminism, as it has characterized the literature produced by the anti-colonial revolt and by the descendants of the enslaved Africans. On this ground, across great geographic and cultural boundaries, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) anticipates Aimé Cesaire's Return to the Native Land (1938), when she mockingly scolds her female audience and, behind it, a broader female world, for not having managed to produce anything but children.
- Silvia Federici Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004)
- As Cedric Robinson argued, a group of radical black intellectuals including W. E. B. Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, C. L. R. James, George Padmore, Ralph Bunche, Oliver Cox, and others, understood fascism not as some aberration from the march of progress, an unexpected right-wing turn, but a logical development of Western civilization itself.
- Robin Kelley Freedom Dreams (2002)
- Over many years (I am almost 72) so many poets have touched my imagination and opened paths for me—it hardly makes sense to list them. I have always read a great deal of poetry. Some poets—like Robert Lowell, Denise Levertov, Randall Jarrell, Jean Valentine, Audre Lorde, Hayden Carruth, Jane Cooper, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Clayton Eshelman—have been my friends, we’ve been comrades in exchanging work and encouraging each other… But I’ve also been powerfully affected by Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Muriel Rukeyser, Aimé Césaire, Robert Duncan—poets I met briefly if at all.
- In an essay on the Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire, Clayton Eshleman names this hunger as "the desire, the need, for a more profound and ensouled world." There is a continuing dynamic between art repressed and art reborn, between the relentless marketing of the superficial and the "spectral and vivid reality that employs all means" (Rukeyser again) to reach through armoring, resistances, resignation, to recall us to desire.
- Adrienne Rich, Arts of the Possible (2001)
- For the main leaders in the colonized world in the 1950s and ’60s, the issue was not promises of future integration but decolonization and anticolonial solidarity. The issue of race was essential. Colonialism was in its essence a racist project, and the lack of US support for full decolonization reminded many Third World leaders of racial oppression against African-Americans in the United States. But the European Left was also to blame. In his 1956 resignation from the PCF, whom he had been elected to represent in the National Assembly ten years earlier, the black Martinican writer Aimé Césaire castigated the Eurafrique idea: “Look at the great breath of unity passing over all the black countries! Look how, here and there, the torn fabric is being re-stitched! Experience, harshly acquired experience, has taught us that we have at our disposal but one weapon, one sole efficient and undamaged weapon: the weapon of unity, the weapon of the anticolonial rallying of all who are willing, and the time during which we are dispersed according to the fissures of the metropolitan parties is also the time of our weakness and defeat.”
- Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)